I haven't had time to post in a few days but I have been writing. This is a little stand-alone story but it's ultimately headed for the memoir I'm working on. Hope you like it.
When I heard the grinding gears of a vehicle straining to make it up the steep, deeply rutted road that ambled past my cabin, I went out onto the front porch to take a look. I was living on the side of a wooded cliff in the Santa Cruz mountains. This morning I was expecting a delivery of two cords of firewood. Before moving here a month ago I’d never even built a fire but then, there were a lot of things I’d never done before this move.
The rattle and clunk was getting closer and I could see a cloud of dust billowing toward me, signaling the approach of the vehicle. It rounded the bend and slowed to a shuddering halt at the base of a slope I laughingly called my driveway.
“You the one that ordered the wood?” the scruffy old driver called out to me as I looked over the railing.
“That would be me. I ordered two cords,” I called back, wondering how he was going to parcel out my wood from the huge load that filled the back of his rickety dump truck.
“You got the cash?”
“Inside. I’ll get it for you.” I went in and found the envelope I’d filled with twenty dollar bills. When I opened the screen and went back out onto the porch I saw that the driver was busy maneuvering his truck forward and back, spewing exhaust, until its backside rested snug up against the start of my driveway. Then the bed of the truck began to shake as it tilted up and up, spilling its entire contents right there at the bottom of my hill. I was glad I’d taken the time before he arrived to move my car a little way up the road. I only did that to give him a bit more room to navigate the narrow road, but if I hadn’t, I’d have been trapped for sure.
I made my way down the wobbly porch steps and picked my way around the wood to the cab of the truck. “Here’s your money,” I said, offering the envelope through his open window. The stale smell of tobacco smoke assaulted my nose. His dirty, weathered hands opened the envelope and thumbed through the bills.
“Yup. It’s all here.”
“How do you know that’s two cords worth?” I asked, wondering how I’d ever know if I was being cheated or not, never having seen what a cord of wood looked like. I’d ordered it over the phone, just taking a wild guess that was how much I’d need to get through the winter, given that the cabin had no other source of heat but the fireplace.
“I get paid to know,” he barked. Then he actually looked up at me and added, a bit softer, “My truck only holds two cords. Have a good day.”
His truck started to lurch forward and I blurted out, “Aren’t you going to stack it?” A look came over his face like I’d just told him I thought he was wearing lacy pink undies.
“Look lady, I just deliver it. I certainly don’t stack it.” Through the window of his cab I caught a glimpse of him shaking his head as he headed back down the hill. Or maybe it was just the potholes and roots lifting up through the dirt road that made it look that way as his truck slowly bounced away.
In any event, he was gone and I was left with a mountain of wood that needed to be carried up the hill and stacked. Sighing, I filled my arms with three or four logs and headed back toward the porch and the covered area that served as my wood shed. The wood was heavy and the climb was steep. I got to the shed, dropped my load, and headed back down for more. Thirty minutes later I was way past exhausted. Every muscle in my arms, back and legs was screaming and I had a couple of nasty looking splinters in my hands. I went inside to dig them out. As I was washing up I looked out the window over the kitchen sink and I could see that I hadn’t even made a dent in my new wooden mountain. I went outside to the fridge on the back porch, grabbed a Guinness, and headed back through the house to the front porch where I plopped down on the steps, popped the tab and drank the entire beer. Then I started to cry.
A week went by and every day I moved more of the logs to the shed but it was becoming clear to me that the mountain was winning. It didn’t look any smaller than the day it arrived. In fact, I would swear it was growing larger.
I was in the kitchen making dinner when there was a knock at the front door. This was my first visitor since moving in. Both my dogs were barking like crazy and I had to push them away to open the door. The screen was closed and on the other side was the scariest looking man I’d ever seen up close. He was scrawny but tall, with long bushy hair that stuck out in all directions and had leaves and sticks clinging to it. He probably didn’t have to worry about mosquitoes because the odor that rolled off his body would keep anything at a distance. He had intense, light blue eyes that held an urgent look but he had a very soft voice.
“Looks like you’ve got a lot of wood that needs stacking,” he said simply. Oh god, did he want me to give him my wood?
“Yeah,” I said warily.
“Maybe I could stack it for you.” I was pretty sure I wanted this guy to get the hell off my porch and not be hanging around stacking wood. Even my usually friendly, to the point of knocking you over to kiss you, dog, Radar, was having none of this guy and had bared his teeth and was growling. Sascha, the little one, was cowering behind me, barking and piddling all at the same time. I was tempted to simply say no and shut the door but then again, I clearly needed help with the wood.
I hesitated just long enough for desperation to trump fear then said, “What would you want to stack it?”
“Oh, you don’t have to pay me.” I must have looked pretty skeptical because he said, “It’s just,” there was a long pause, “I, uh, well, I just need to keep busy. If I don’t keep busy I tend to rob banks. Would it be okay if I just stacked your wood?”
Well, that was not what I had expected. But some part of me had learned that you don’t get something for nothing so I said, “No, I couldn’t let you do that unless I paid you. How much would you want?”
Maybe he had enough money left from the last bank job, I don’t know, but he looked at me for a moment and said, “Can you sew?”
“Yeah. I can sew.”
“Could you make me a jacket from some pairs of old jeans?”
Well, I’d never tried that but it sure sounded easier than hauling all that wood up my hill so I said, “Well, I could certainly give it a try.”
“Thank you ma’am. I’ll start tomorrow morning.” He nodded his wild head to me and disappeared into the twilight. I closed the door and locked it. Then I went and locked the back door. I went around and closed and locked all the windows. Then I turned off the lights.
True to his word, he was already stacking the next morning when I left for work. I arrived home that evening to find the mountain of wood had vanished, but my shed was filled with neatly stacked logs.
I kept dreading the day my stranger would reappear, his arms filled with a pile of dirty jeans, but I never saw him again. Oh, I thought of him now and again, usually when I was passing a bank. But over time I relaxed and came to think of him fondly as my wood angel.